Home Leadership Youth & Young Adults A Decade of GWFC Chaplains in Public Schools

A Decade of GWFC Chaplains in Public Schools

Enoch Nagabyrava*

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Ten years ago, Mark Chapple and Phil Evans, both members of Hawkesbury Valley Baptist Church, envisioned a new approach to chaplaincy organization. Instead of employing chaplains directly, they aimed to facilitate local chaplains from nearby churches to serve in local schools. This vision materialized when Glen Clark from Hawkesbury Community Church utilized his church’s chaplaincy provider status to establish what we now know as Greater West for Christ Chaplaincy. From a modest beginning with two chaplains in Londonderry and Hawkesbury, this initiative has blossomed into overseeing chaplaincies in 24 public schools and one childcare centre. Remarkably, 19 chaplains from 14 local churches across four denominations are now part of this collaborative effort.

Celebrating a decade of impact on Thursday, November 16th, Mark Chapple reflected on the journey. He highlighted that the chaplains, stationed in 25 locations, collectively contribute over 10,000 hours of wellbeing support each year to their respective school communities. Chapple encouraged envisioning a future where 250 GWFC chaplains make a significant difference, investing 100,000 hours annually in students, staff, and families.

Geoff Brailey, a Social Researcher from McCrindle, contributed insights from the report ‘The factors disrupting the future of education’. He emphasized the pivotal role of school chaplains in addressing two of the seven disrupting factors: mental health & wellbeing and teacher burnout. In a landscape where teachers prioritize holistic student development but feel leadership emphasizes academic progress, the need for chaplaincy support becomes evident. The McCrindle report underscored challenges such as online bullying, loneliness, academic pressures, familial fractures, domestic violence, and poor nutrition faced by students. School Chaplains, as per The National Study of School Chaplains, engage in approximately 39,158 weekly conversations with students on issues like mental health, bullying, educational support, and family breakdown. They also conduct 15,681 weekly conversations with staff and parents. Each term, chaplains support 249,656 students across Australia.

Execs and staff from several schools attended the event to support their chaplains. Jess Yard, Deputy Principal from Bennett Road Public School in Colyton, said, “During COVID, our chaplain Shannon King helped move a school family who were evicted into a new home… Shannon is always there for anybody in need who is connected to the school. I just can’t tell you how many students he speaks with every day, the number of hampers he delivers to families in need and the number of times he has been there for us teachers – listening and caring for us.” Representatives from other schools commented on the impact of wellbeing and resilience programs that chaplains run, and the benefits of partnering with the local churches where chaplains attend.

Former Prime Minister Hon. John Howard, a pioneer of the National School Chaplaincy Program, addressed the gathering. He reminisced about the bipartisan support for the program and drew inspiration from Mother Teresa’s approach of coping and tackling problems “one at a time.” He suggested that chaplains too, whilst may not solve all the problems they see, can surely care for one student at a time. Appreciating the GWFC Chaplaincy model of chaplains from local churches, he encouraged us to continue the good work of being bound by common faith, bound by a sense of community, bound by commitment to reach out to children so that these children can aspire for more. “Thank you for doing something for your God, your communities and for making a difference to the wonderful country of Australia.”

When people ask me why I chose to be a chaplain, I say, it is an act of obedience to Jesus’ command to love God with all our being and love our neighbours as ourselves. Secondly, I feel deeply for those of our little children who are burdened with very big problems. This is just not fair, and chaplains can be a means of grace for these kids, one at a time. At the Impact Dinner, our chaplains shared some of their stories of impact and they can be read here. As I read through them, I give thanks for the way school chaplains dispense grace, inspire change, and share God’s love to the next generations. I pray that this breed of chaplains will multiply. I also give thanks for the money that was raised to make this ministry sustainable. I dream that at least one school in every suburb will be connected to a local church and a chaplain.

In the last few weeks, I signed chaplaincy contracts for 22 schools for 2024, and we are excited about the few expressions of interest we have had from regional NSW. Just on Wednesday (20 Dec), we received the approval from the Department of Education to continue as the Chaplaincy provider for until 2027. This is a perfect Christmas present for us as we can continue to serve school communities.

I appreciate your ongoing prayers for GWFC Chaplaincy and our chaplains.

 

*Enoch is a chaplain at Oxley Park Public School and leads GWFC Chaplaincy. He also pastors St. Marys Baptist Church.

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